Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
Angels in Pink
One Last Wish Novels
A Time to Die
Mother, Help Me Live
Someone Dies, Someone Lives
Sixteen and Dying
Let Him Live
The Legacy: Making Wishes Come True
Please Don’t Die
She Died Too Young
All the Days of Her Life
A Season for Goodbye
Reach for Tomorrow
Other Omnibus Editions
Keep Me in Your Heart: Three Novels
True Love: Three Novels
The End of Forever
Always and Forever
The Angels Trilogy
As Long As We Both Shall Live
Journey of Hope
One Last Wish: Three Novels
The Year of Chasing Dreams
The Year of Luminous Love
Red Heart Tattoo
Reaching Through Time
Heart to Heart
Hit and Run
Letting Go of Lisa
The Time Capsule
Garden of Angels
A Rose for Melinda
Telling Christina Goodbye
How Do I Love Thee: Three Stories
To Live Again
Angel of Mercy
Angel of Hope
Starry, Starry Night: Three Holiday Stories
The Girl Death Left Behind
Angels Watching Over Me
Lifted Up by Angels
For Better, For Worse, Forever
Until Angels Close My Eyes
Till Death Do Us Part
I’ll Be Seeing You
Don’t Die, My Love
Too Young to Die
Goodbye Doesn’t Mean Forever
Somewhere Between Life and Death
Time to Let Go
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
When Happily Ever After Ends
Baby Alicia Is Dying
ROM EVERY ENDING COMES A NEW BEGINNING
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental
Text copyright © 2014 by Lurlene McDaniel
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
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Ciana Beauchamp stared up at the thousands of stars gleaming down on her, still reeling from the dream that had awakened her. In it, she and Jon Mercer had been lying in sweetgrass by a river, holding each other. As they had done in days now gone, she reminded herself. Yet the dream had been so real. She’d felt Jon’s mouth on hers, his hands touching her skin, in the sort of mysterious evaporation process that can happen only in a dream. As he held her, wherever his mouth and hands lingered turned her hot and weak with need and desire. Her breath caught. Her hips rose. And just as he was to meld into her, she woke, breathing hard and trembling, unable and unwilling to let go of the sensations.
There had been no falling back asleep after that. Restless, she’d come outside to stand on the lawn of her old Victorian house and watch the sky. In no time dawn would chase away the night and with it another long, hard workday would begin. Farm work was never done, not even when you owned the property—especially when you owned the property.
“Ciana? You all right?”
Ciana whirled at the sound of Eden McLauren’s voice from the steps of the porch, then watched her best friend pad across the dewy grass to stand alongside her.
Startled, Ciana asked, “Why are you up so early?”
“Potty break. Looked out the upstairs window and saw you standing here. Thought I’d better check it out.”
“I had a dream and couldn’t get back to sleep. You should go inside. I’m fine.” Eden was a sleep-in kind of gal; getting up this early would only make her grouchy later on.
“What kind of a dream? A nightmare?” Eden knew how Ciana worried and how hard she worked to keep her Tennessee farm, Bellmeade, from going under. Loss of sleep wasn’t good for her.
“Then what? Let me guess. Did you dream about Jon? About the two of you together?”
“Why is my dream life so suddenly interesting? I had a dream. It woke me up. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I came outside for fresh air.” In truth, Ciana was embarrassed by how the dream had aroused such potent sexual reactions. She buried her face in her hands. When it came to knowing Ciana, Eden’s internal radar was uncanny.
“Sorry. I’ve had dreams like that myself, and just when I get to the good stuff, I wake up. It’s frustrating,” Eden said.
“I’m fine,” Ciana repeated impatiently.
“Dreams are symptoms of either what we want or what we fear. It’s how our subconscious talks to us,” Eden answered.
“Please, skip the analysis.”
Eden put her arm around Ciana’s waist. “Look, this has been a hard summer for all of us. No shame in your subconscious turning to pleasure. Wish mine could.”
Ciana felt contrite. Eden was suffering too. The loss of their friend Arie went deep, and nothing could fix what had happened or replace what was gone. Remembering Arie, Ciana said, “I went to visit Arie’s grave yesterday. Put some fresh flowers in front of her headstone.”
“You’re better about that than I am.” Eden stepped back, rubbed her arms, not because she was cold, but because the cemetery creeped her out. She’d gone once since the April funeral to pay her respects but had broken down and cried buckets, and couldn’t make herself return. “I don’t know how you do it.”
“It’s peaceful there. Quiet and still.” Yesterday the sky had been blue and cloudless, the August air heavy with humidity that mingled with the scent of the bouquet she’d brought. It had all lent sweetness but underscored Ciana’s sadness. She’d sat on the ground in front of the grave; a trio of butterflies appeared from nowhere and settled on the petals of the flowers. Their appearance and beauty stopped her breath, and she saw the winged creatures as a metaphor for the friendship that had existed between Eden, Arie, and herself. The blue butterfly, the prettiest of the trio Ciana decided, represented Arie. The other two flitted away, but the blue one lingered, and the sunlight gave its wings an iridescent quality. It rested on the petal of a pink rose, folding and unfolding its wings, keeping a rhythm that matched Ciana’s heartbeat. Then the insect left, circling upward until Ciana lost sight of it among the leaves of an overhead tree. Somehow the butterflies had brought her comfort yesterday, but now, in the early predawn light, she felt pressure in her chest once more. Like the butterfly, Arie was gone.
“I—I—” Ciana’s voice caught.
“Don’t make fun, but when I’m out there, in front of her grave, I talk to her. I tell her stuff just as if she can hear me.”
Eden realized it was an old habit. Ciana and Arie had been friends before Eden had come onto the scene and turned the two-way dialogue into three-way conversation. “What do you tell her?”
“I ask her to forgive me about Jon.”
Eden reached out, touched Ciana’s shoulder. “You know she did. Please don’t torture yourself.”
“Doesn’t matter. I still feel guilty. She loved him so much.”
“But he loved
. Still loves you.”
“Does he? I haven’t heard from him in months.” Melancholia welled up in Ciana from a reservoir she usually tried to keep under a tight lid. She didn’t want to mourn the dual losses of Arie and Jon. Her heart couldn’t take it just now.
Behind the house the barnyard rooster crowed. “Isn’t he up early?” Eden asked, changing the subject to a less painful one.
“He’s always up early. You’re just always still asleep and never hear him.” In the east the sky was graying quickly, and the stars were disappearing. Ciana saw a light switch on inside the house and glow through the front porch window. Her mother was up and would soon be rattling around the kitchen. Another day beginning, ever the same, yet different.
Eden yawned, stretched. “Bet the coffee’s on.”
“Go back to bed for a while.”
“Since I’m already awake, I’ll help Alice Faye with breakfast instead. But first I’ll raid the chicken coop for fresh eggs.” Eden stepped away. “You coming?”
“In a minute.”
“Leave tending the horses until after breakfast,” Eden commanded, shaking her finger.
Yes, her friend knew her well. Ciana smiled. “I will. Now go on.”
Eden hurried up the porch steps and through the front door to fetch an egg-gathering basket. Ciana took one long last look up at the sky, now painted with shades of gold and pink. Today promised to be another scorcher. Jon intruded into her thoughts again.
Stop thinking of him
, she told herself.
Stop dreaming of him. Stop missing him
. If he missed her he would have called by now. All these months without a word were evidence of his true feelings for her. And that argument might have been more convincing had it not been for that last fierce, hungry, soul-searing kiss they’d shared before he’d driven away last spring.
… why had he kissed her that way and then left her?
“Where are you, Jon Mercer?” she asked into the dawn. Was he safe? Did he ever think of her? Did he miss her as she missed him?
Damn him, anyway! Ciana spun and marched into the house, toward the kitchen and the smell of brewing coffee and the daily grind of her real life.
“People! Let’s give it up for Jon Mercer! That was some ride, cowboy—a full eight seconds on Storm Trooper! Meanest jughead mustang bronc west of the Mississippi. Nice going, Jon!” The
announcer’s voice sounded above the roar of the rodeo crowd, cheering Jon’s ride and dismount from the wild horse.
The Wyoming sun beat down from a splendid blue sky sharpening the jagged peaks of the Rockies rimming the horizon. Jon picked up his hat from the dirt, slapped it against his thigh, and waved it at the clapping, boot-stomping spectators in bleachers. Across the corral the rodeo clowns distracted the angry wild horse and forced the animal into an adjoining pen. Jon hurried to the side of the corral, climbed over the metal bars as another bucking horse and its rider shot out of a chute. He watched for the few seconds it took the horse to toss the rider, then walked to the staging area.
A cowboy is only as good as his last ride
, he reminded himself. He raked his hand through his sun-streaked hair and walked to his horse truck and trailer, parked in a lot away from the crowd, the noise, and the action. He’d face calf roping with Caramel in another hour. Until then, he’d rest, maybe catch some shut-eye. Anything to turn off his thoughts.
That night he was sitting alone in a booth in the saloon-style bar and staring into the depths of his beer when a female voice said, “Hey, cowboy. This seat taken?”
He’d been brooding and hadn’t seen her come to his table. The girl was young and pretty, with long blond hair, and she wore tight-fitting shorts, a cleavage-baring top, and too much makeup. He found her smile a bit over the top. “It’s taken,” he lied, and returned to staring into his beer.
“Really? It doesn’t look taken. Big booth. Looks like you have room for me and a couple of others.”
He heard giggling from a nearby table, glanced over to see a group of girls who looked like the one in front of him.
. They were in every town on the circuit: locals out for a good time, steeped in booze and offering sex to the riders. They reminded him of gunslingers in the stories of the old west, the ones who carved notches on their guns with every takedown. He took a long swig of his beer, set the mug on the table. “Not interested, miss.”
The girl’s face colored and her full red lips went pouty. He could tell she wasn’t used to rejection.
“I’ll buy my own drinks,” she said, as if that would persuade him to change his mind. “I know you guys don’t always have a good day out there in the ring.”
Jon had had a very good day. He’d ridden broncs and competed in calf roping and placed twice. He had the purse money in his back pocket, so buying drinks wasn’t a problem. “I’m drinking alone tonight.”
“But you don’t have to be alone. I’m thinking we could have a nice time together.”
His grandfather had taught him to be respectful of women, but this girl wasn’t taking his
hints about backing off. More firmly, he said, “Look, nothing personal, but I don’t want your company.”
Her friendly expression went away and her eyes turned hard, punitive. “You gay?”
“You horny?” he fired back.
She stepped backward, as if she’d been shoved. “Not for you, jackass.”
“Then we’re of the same mind,” he said with a dismissive shrug.
The girl stalked off to the table where her friends were sitting, and all of them stood in unison—the herd mentality—and stomped off toward the restrooms.
“Whoo-ee! You sure pissed them off, Jonny-boy,” Declan Pierce said with a grin as he slid into the booth to sit directly across from Jon.
“Yeah, I’m a jerk.” Still, Jon flashed his friend a wry smile. Dec was one of the few guys on the circuit Jon looked up to. He was older, a banged-up, worn-out ex–bronc rider who these days played the role of rodeo clown. His job was to distract angry bulls and wild horses from thrown or hurt riders. Throwing himself in front of the animals while drawing a laugh from the spectators was dangerous, but Dec was good at it.
“She probably could have shown you a real good time,” Dec teased. “From where I was standing, you let some eager groupie walk away. Real tasty-looking.”
“You are a dirty old man.”
Dec winked. “Aww. I’m like a dog that chases cars—wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one.”
Jon grinned. He’d tasted these groupie girl treats years before, when he’d been a randy teenager just starting to make a name for himself. From those days he remembered what it was like to wake up next to some girl whose name he couldn’t even recall. He’d always woken with a pounding headache, the stale taste of bourbon in his mouth, and the smell of sex clinging to the bedsheets. With nothing to say, the flavor of the night would dress quickly and slip out of his motel room while he fumbled for aspirin and hit a hot shower to wash away the night before. Now he was older and a whole lot smarter, and one-night stands were off his radar. Once, making a name for himself in the rodeo world was all he’d thought about. But then he’d met Ciana Beauchamp.
Dec waved the waitress over and ordered two more beers even though Jon’s mug was still half full. A loving-and-leaving song by Waylon Jennings played on an old-time jukebox and turned Jon’s mood fouler. When the beers landed, Dec downed most of his in one long swallow. “Only one thing can keep some filly out of your bed, Jonny-boy,” he said, slapping the mug to the table.
Jon wasn’t interested in Dec’s beer-fueled observation, so he ignored the bait.
Undeterred, Dec said, “That’d be another woman. One who matters.”
“You’re not a priest, Dec. No confessions from me.”
Dec’s face, tanned as leather and as grooved as a weathered fence post, split into a smile. “I call ’em as I see ’em.”
“Nothing I can’t handle.” Jon stood and stretched. “Well, it’s late and I’m wiped out.” He tossed a handful of bills onto the table. “If that girl comes back, go for her.”
“I’m too old. Girls like her want the young ones. They want you.”
He’d only taken a few steps when Dec said, “Easy part’s getting such a woman out of your head. Hard part’s getting her out of your heart.”